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Ambivalence: The Resiliency of Legal Culture in the United States, 45 Stanford Law Review 1525 (1993)


Law schools tell a pretty cheerful story, which goes something like this: In 1789, the United States came into being, and its constitution—the Constitution—has framed and constrained legal developments ever since. While there have been a few bumps along the way (such as slavery, the Civil War, and the race riots of the twentieth century), we (as in "We the People") have persevered. If it has not all come out alright yet, it will, soon; all that is needed is patience and constitutional faith.

The emergence of a range of commentaries—critical legal studies, feminism, critical race theory—has not made much of a dent in the basic story, as it is retold annually in the law school classroom. While some participants in this Symposium on Civic and Legal Education bemoan the fragmentation of the legal scholarly enterprise, they miss the stunning stability of the classroom.

The invulnerability of the classroom to radical critique relies on at least three factors. First, law professors tend to teach what they themselves have been taught. Most accept that the traditional "Cases and Comments on..." are the subject matter of particular courses. Few of the recent editions of these books, in turn, revise in fundamental ways the framing of basic courses. Indeed, despite the emergence over the past decade of interest in "law and literature" and of the call for stories and narratives, few within the legal academy have drawn from contemporary literary criticism what I take to be a central message for law: to question what materials constitute the canon.

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